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May 27, 2011

"China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work"

Images The title of this post is the headline of this recent report from the Guardian, which starts this way:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real. "If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.

It is known as "gold farming", the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games' makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

Especially because it is late Friday before a holiday weekend, readers are welcome (and even encouraged) to respond to this post with jokes about sentencing prisoners to play Angry Birds or about what kinds of required on-line activities might be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.

May 27, 2011 at 03:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real. ... They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things."

Sorry, professor, but this is not the kind of story that moves me to make jokes.

Posted by: Hugh Kaplan (journalist) | May 27, 2011 5:22:45 PM

No, I will not joke about torture of ANY consequence. I can assure you that computer work, even play, can become tedious to the point of delirium. But the fact that the prison was profiting from this forced prison (literally, SLAVE) labor is not only inappropriate to joke about, but is a damning indictment upon the correctional system, no matter where it may be.

Finally, keep in mind many of these "prisoners" are incarcerated for POLITICAL reasons, not for normal criminal activity, which makes joking about this all the more atrocious.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 27, 2011 7:58:41 PM

Lighten up a bit on Friday afternoon folks. Little on this blog is not about human tragedy, but the notion of forced online gaming can allow us a bit of levity, no? Sorry if any are offended, I just was hoping to lighten the mood after a long week.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 27, 2011 10:43:45 PM

Having experienced the enchantingly addictive powers of video games, particularly MMORPGs, I have often wondered if these games might be a useful tool for managing prison populations. It is well understood that giving inmates a benefit that will be lost if they misbehave is far more effective than punishment alone. Hence, prisons with little or no programming, unappetizing food, and restricted access to exercise and entertainment are far more unruly places.

So, we give prisoners an account on World of Warcraft. What inmate is going to want to lose a month of dungeon raids, missing out on the opportunity to loot that sweet epic chest piece, just because he talked back to a guard?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2011 2:01:45 AM

Cruel: Assignment to the Truth Squad at the Huffington Post.

Exhausting, and one must take a lot of verbal abuse and censorship.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 28, 2011 6:28:25 AM

Anonymous brings up an excellent tool. Addictions to control people. Smoking 4 cigarettes a day is not harmful. The dispenser of these can be a slave master. "You apologize to the warden, or no more for today." Same goes for video addiction. Harmless addiction exposure should be allowed as a mutually beneficial control method.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 28, 2011 6:32:13 AM

Eric Knight: "But the fact that the prison was profiting from this forced prison (literally, SLAVE) labor is not only inappropriate to joke about, but is a damning indictment upon the correctional system, no matter where it may be."

You do realize we do this in America too, right? To a greater extent?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E7wgFcCefE

Posted by: NickS | May 28, 2011 9:02:48 AM

NickS: "You do realize we do this in America too, right? To a greater extent?"

Nick, you are not only preaching to the choir, but the choir director, the music arranger, and the whole damn church for that matter.

As someone who deals with sex offender issues, I am acutely aware at the incredible mismanagement of our judicial system / correctional system / law enforcement system can be.

I would generally disagree, though, with your extent that we subject our prisoners to greater tortures. Incarceration and subsequent parole conditions, as well as sex offender registration may be overwhelmingly repressive in general, but I have yet to see physical torture used on political prisoners in the US. It happens, perhaps, but not to the same degree as exists in China.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 28, 2011 2:54:28 PM

@Professor Berman

OK, it's the weekend. I appreciate your attempt at levity, and in fact appreciate your service to the rest of the legal community with your timely articles. In addition, morbid humor definitely has its place, and I can see how from your standpoint that this humor can be seen. "Wow, computer gaming!! What torture!!" does sound like the beginning of a joke that Leno or Letterman would stay.

But ironically, consider the timing of the post. This is Memorial weekend, where we honor those who sacrificed themselves not just to our country, but for the ideals put forth in the US Constitution. As far as our own views on war, or on constitutional interpretation, one can appreciate the alarmingly thin line between order and chaos. Again, Professor, thanks for all you do, and have a great Memorial Day weekend. The same goes for everyone else here.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 28, 2011 5:28:20 PM

Thats really an odd information i didn't know this.Nice blog

Posted by: Atlanta Injury Lawyer | May 30, 2011 8:33:51 AM

To the spamming Atlanta lawyer: if you're going to spam the blog's comments section, at least use grammatically correct English. Who in their right mind would hire an attorney who can't even write a coherent sentence?

Posted by: C.A.J. | May 30, 2011 5:03:40 PM

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